There are some people that actually thrive on competition and always play better when it is tournament time. Then there are the rest of us that have trouble drawing it back on the first tee when it is our turn to tee off.
If you Google “How to Play In Golf Tournaments” you will get a little over 15 million results so let’s just say there are a lot of opinions out there mostly by people that have never played at any real competitive level. There is also a tremendous amount from all sorts of mental and attitude gurus that all regurgitate pretty much the same thing.
With that being said, the more you play in competition, the more comfortable you get with it. Playing in a charity scramble is not going to get it done. It can be something as simple as weekly skins game or dogfight. Any competition is better than none.
Here is what my experience over the years observing golfers and playing with winners of majors to people that struggle to break a hundred has taught me.
Everyone gets a case of the nerves prior to playing in competition. Some people just handle it better than others. Part of it is adrenaline which is controlled by a small part of the brain that acts as our alarm clock. When it senses something wrong, it floods our system with adrenaline which can be a very bad thing. A little helps sharpen our focus and hit good golf shots. Too much and we get nervous, this causes us to tighten up. Tight golfers spray the ball everywhere, chunk chip shots and miss putts by a mile.
There are some things you can do to keep your adrenaline levels under control and part of it is putting yourself in a situation where you are as prepared as possible. Jack Nicklaus once said, “The difference between being nervous and scared is being prepared.”
Prior to playing in any tournament of any importance, you will need to practice. That is a given, but how you practice is crucial. Don’t spend your practice time on the range beating balls. Recent studies have proven that playing is a better form of practice than ball beating. Get out and play and use your imagination. Imagine hitting shot that matter and get in a lot of short game practice on the course. The better you feel about your short game and putting, the better you are likely to perform.
Try to resolve any personal or business issue that you can prior to the tournament, otherwise they will act as a distraction. If you can’t clean everything up, commit to not worrying about them until you get home. Create the opportunity for all of your mental energy to be focused on one thing – playing good golf.
On tournament day, have a checklist so you are dealing with something unforeseen on the first tee:
Did you eat well before your round?
Are you hydrated?
Do you have water and snacks in the bag?
Do you have a ball marker, tees and pitch mark repairer in your pocket?
Is your phone switched on to silent?
Is your glove in good condition?
Do you have plenty of golf balls?
Are your clubs clean?
I know that this might sound like a little too much organization to some, but it is easy to get to the tee thing you had extra golf balls or gloves.
You want to give yourself ample time to loosen up and warm up on the range. When you get to the range keep one thought in mind; if you didn’t bring it with you it is too late to find it. You are just warming up and seeing which way the ball is going. Mentally practice playing the first hole. DO NOT try to fix anything this late. Tournaments are where you demonstrate your skills; tournaments are not for evaluating each shot and making revisions.
One word of caution – do not get there too early so that you have too much time. That leads to hitting too many range balls or sitting around and getting nervous.
Control your expectations. The best in the world only bring their “A” game 20 percent of the time and you probably are not as good as they are.
Have the mindset that you want to play as well as you can. Whatever you do, don’t have the attitude that you are just trying not to play poorly.
One of the most important things is to remember to accept the fact that you will hit some bad shots and you will probably get some bad breaks. That is just how golf is. Accept them and move on.
I hope you pick up some useful tips and succeed at your next tournament a little more.